We have found most of our customers don’t really understand what is involved in diagnosing a problem with a car. One of the questions we hear a lot is, “Can’t you just hook the computer up and it tells you what’s wrong?” The answer to that is, “Not exactly.” Diagnosing car problems is not entirely unlike what a doctor goes through diagnosing a health problem. There are steps we need to take in order to get it right.
Diagnostic computers are the number one misunderstood tool by people not familiar with using them in detail. A diagnostic computer does not tell us what is wrong with the car. Instead, the diagnostic computer gives us a voice to tell us about the problem and help us learn what the cause is.
When your check engine light comes on, we get one or more diagnostic codes. These are 5 digit codes that basically describe a symptom or problem the car is having. These are a starting point, much like telling a doctor “My knee hurts.” The car equivalent may be “Misfire Cylinder 3.” We know what the car is experiencing, but not what the cause is.
The next thing the computer tells us is what we call “freeze frame data.” This is a snapshot of all the sensor and everything that was going on at the time the code was set. Back to our knee example, this answers the question, “What were you doing when the pain started?” Our experienced technicians can use this data to help figure out what may have happened to cause the problem.
Our high-end computer equipment will allow us to have tools sort of like an EKG, CAT-Scan, and other tools that doctors have. We can monitor live data from every sensor on the car and watch for anything out of the ordinary. We can also test individual components and run various tests by making a change and watching the computer data to see the result. All of these can help us narrow down the source of the problem.
Sometimes, the computer tools can get us right to the exact problem. Sometimes, we need a little more hands-on when the computer can’t give us enough information. Like a doctor, we can do a visual inspection to look for anything abnormal or obvious damage. We may have to take things apart and inspect and test individual components like a doctor would do during exploratory surgery. Just like a doctor may not have to send every cough to get an MRI, we don’t necessarily need to spend 15 hours of in-depth diagnostic time to get to the bottom of the issue. Most of the time, we can get enough information to find the problem with just a few steps.
As you can imagine, sometimes we need to spend a significant amount of time with your vehicle. We may need to subject it to various different conditions, such as driving cold, driving hot, highway and in-town driving, etc. in order to gather the information we need. You can help us by giving as many details as you can about what you are experiencing, when and how it happened, and what we can do to duplicate the issue. This will help us make sure we are testing just what we need to.